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The Aussie Zombie

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Alex as Well by Alyssa Brugman

Alex as Well - Alyssa Brugman

Last year I read my first book with an intersex character. It was so incredibly captivating and moving that I desperately went on a search for something similar – and pretty much found the literary world lacking. But one book that I did find whilst looking for Australian YA books six months later was Alex As Well – which had to be mine immediately.

Alex (just Alex), has been raised as a boy, but has two distinct personalities – male Alex and female Alex. This also gives a really unique voice to the story, as Alex converses with both personalities internally – at first I found it a little jarring, but by the end of the second chapter I was completely and totally hooked. There is also the alternate perspective of Alex’s mother, in the form of blog posts, complete with helpful and ignorant comments from readers, again adding to the uniqueness of the storytelling format.

I also particularly liked the family dynamic that Alyssa Brugman has created – Alex’s parents aren’t the flawless, understanding and caring parents that they could easily have been – they are also conflicted, argumentative and distant, alternating between depression and indifference. And it isn’t that they are distinctly unlikeable characters either – it’s all just very human, even if it does make it difficult to sympathise with them. They are flawed and struggling themselves to understand the choices that Alex makes which makes them feel very realistic.

The tipping point of their story is Alex deciding to stop taking hormones and dress as a female – and Alex takes complete charge of her life, changing her school, her clothes and exploring what it means to be a girl after living her whole life as a boy. There are conflicts at school, and home, and in Alex’s own mind that she needs to tackle, and has an unusual ally to back her up.
Perhaps the only thing that disappointed me slightly was the ending, but in retrospect it was actually quite fitting to both the plot and Alex’s personality, although it took me a little by surprise.

Emotional, funny, moving and ultimately inspiring, Alex As Well is an excellent YA book about fitting in, adapting and working out who you really are.

All We Had by Annie Weatherwax

All We Had: A Novel - Annie Weatherwax

Ruthie and Rita are as close as mother and daughter can be. Living hand-to-hand and boyfriend-to-boyfriend, they are permanently on the edge of disaster. When Rita dumps her latest boyfriend and the two take off, not knowing where they are going, or what to do when they get there. What they find is a small town where the characters are kooky and they fit right in from (almost) the first moment. Ruthie begins to find a place to call home, Rita, rather reluctantly, takes charge of her own life, and they start to put down roots.

The dynamic between Ruthie and Rita is interesting – it is almost like Ruthie is the adult – she holds Rita together and appears much older than thirteen. She’s the one who sorts out a place to live, jobs for both herself and Rita, and keeps up with the housework, all without complaint – it’s the only life she’s ever known, and although she occasionally she shows a bit of frustration, she’s very much a get-on-with-it character.

I adored the relationships that Ruthie formed with the townspeople of Fat River – crossdressing waitress Peter Pam was by far my favourite secondary character, and the kindhearted Mel rounds out the characters that support Ruthie and Rita through good times and bad.

However, the part I liked the most was the way that the characters reverted back to old behaviors when things got tough. We always like to think that ourselves, and other people we know, would be able to keep their positivity and better habits through difficult times, but Rita quickly reverts to her old ways – and Ruthie keeps supporting her, despite the fact that she doesn’t agree with her mother’s choices.

Although Rita should have annoyed me endlessly, I could also see her point of view – she relies on other people to get her through life, so it’s almost impossible for her to change those habits and it’s also admirable that she is willing to sacrifice so much to do what she honestly believes is the best for Ruthie.

At times shocking, at times moving and occasionally frustrating, I enjoyed All We Had – it’s an intimate look at a mother-daughter relationship that doesn’t always fit the traditional mould, with unforgettable characters and some very unique perspectives.

This Side of Salvation

This Side of Salvation - Jeri Smith-Ready

Religion in books is a difficult subject, and something I usually try and avoid.  However, in This Side of Salvation it's used as a plot device that works well to drive the plot without shoving a whole bunch of ideals in your face.  Add in a sweet romance and a close brother-sister relationship and a load of grief, and This Side of Salvation ticks a whole lot of boxes.

David and Mara's parents have always been religious, but when their older brother John is killed in tragic circumstances, they begin to become more and more involved in a radical religious movement, which focuses on the Rush - the more 'modern' version of the Rapture.  David's father especially embraces religion as a lifestyle, most notably by speaking in bible quotations all the time.

This Side of Salvation is told in 'then' and 'now' alternating chapters, which works fairly well for the plot - as it begins with the disappearance of David's parents, rather than starting from the beginning and climaxing later in the story, its definitely an attention-holder.

My favourite thing about This Side of Salvation is the relationship between Mara and David - despite the fact that they have different beliefs and respond to the change in their parents differently, they actually become closer, especially once their parents disappear.

Whilst I enjoyed the romance between David and Bailey, at times it felt like it was a little 'thrown in for good measure' - I had much more invested in the sibling relationship, and even David's relationship with his best friend than in the actual romance itself.  However, as characters David and Bailey had good chemistry and complimented each other pretty well.

What really stands out for me in This Side of Salvation is the depth of the grief felt by David's family - it's almost palpable in places and I could understand why his parents chose to cling to their beliefs - because they just didn't know how to deal with the death of their son.

Incredibly readable, with a fabulous sibling dynamic and an intimate study of how grief impacts people in different ways, it was a good read and I'm glad I picked it up.


Above - Isla Morley

The synopsis for Above was pretty much an instant sell for me - along with the cover that I think it all kinds of awesome, I knew that I had to read this book.  Although I tried to ignore the comparison to Room and The Lovely Bones because comparisons rarely work for me personally, having loved Room and liked The Lovely Bones I was really looking forward to Blythe's story.

Morley starts the story when Blythe is abducted, which is the first thing I really appreciated about Above - there's no long-winded lead up and goes straight into the storyline rather than setting a scene.  The only problem was that I actually didn't like Blythe all that much at the beginning - she's incredibly naive and doesn't really seem to take her situation seriously for the first few days and although it could have been explained away by shock and confusion, I didn't respect or admire the way she reacted.  We were off to a bad start in the reader-character relationship.

What Morley does very well with Blythe's character however, is capture how being isolated from the rest of the world stunts her emotional growth.  Which is also hard to explain without giving away major parts of the plot, but it comes back into play later in the story when she misses some very obvious clues about things that are happening around her.  It could have been a frustrating experience, but it's so convincing that I could really appreciate the intricacy of creating such a character.

There are also large time jumps in the plot that I was a little disappointed in - jumping straight from the first two days to four months later and just mentioning her escape attempts didn't give me the depth of emotion and desperation that I was hoping for.

However, as Blythe's time in the silo progresses, the plot becomes more compelling, dark and at times quite overwhelming in it's intensity.  Although her captor isn't violent, he's certainly unstable and his character really adds to the atmosphere - Blythe's constant uncertainty and dancing around Dobbs was almost hypnotising.

The first half of the book focuses solely on Blythe's life in the silo and particularly focuses on her difficult and constantly-changing relationship with Dobbs.  At times she fears him, at others is ambivalent and at times she appears to hold all the cards - the relationship is appropriately complex and watching it seesaw between Blythe and Dobbs was a real rollercoaster.

The plot changes direction in the second half of the book when Blythe escapes the silo with her teenage son, Adam.  This is also the stage in which I really started to appreciate the story, Blythe's character and the strength of Morley's writing style.  Although it's quite flitty in places, it speaks volumes, and in particular Adam's reaction to the world outside the silo shows amazing imagination in portraying how someone would react to the sky, dirt, rocks etc. for the very first time in their lives.  Adam's age also means that he puts his fascination into words, which works far better than it would have with a younger character.

I liked the second part far more than the first part, and that's pretty much because I felt the first half dragged just a little too much in places - which sounds ironic given the frequent time jumps, but I was very much ready for more action by the time Blythe left the silo.

The ending was a point of conflict for me - in some ways I thought it was absolutely perfect, but I also felt like a few key plot lines weren't tied up as neatly as I liked.  I'm not particular about everything being squared away neatly, but there were a few relationships that didn't feel completely resolved.  Overall, Above has a lot of appealing characteristics, despite a few small issues that I think are more personal to me than readers in general.

The Deepest Secret

The Deepest Secret - Carla Buckley

Carla Buckley's latest novel, The Deepest Secret, poses not only the question about how well do you know the people around you, but also that the line between right and wrong isn't always clearly defined.  I was exited to read it after I enjoyed Buckley'sThe Things That Keep Us Here in 2012, and interested to find out more about Eve's son's condition.

Xeroderma pigmentosum (or XP) is a genetic disease in which the sufferer's ability to repair damage caused by UV light is deficient - in other words, XP sufferer's cannot step into sunlight or any other type of UV light such as halogen bulbs without suffering burns, and subsequently skin cancers.  Eve and David's son Tyler was diagnosed with XP as a baby, and their whole lives have been adapted to keeping him safe - from nighttime birthday parties through to asking all their neighbours to use non-Halogen globes in their homes and having all the street lights in their cul-de-sac turned off.

Such is Eve's obsession with keeping her son safe, that her husband has taken a job in another state, travelling back and forth every weekend to spend time with his family, and starting to feel very disillusioned with his life.  What makes this relationship stand out from all the standard 'troubled marriage' story lines however, is the obvious fact that he still loves his wife - he has regular flashbacks to what she was like when they first met, the beginnings of their relationship, and how she lived before Tyler's diagnosis.

Eve's best friend Charlotte, who is her complete opposite, also lives in the cul-de-sac, and many of the residents are on friendly terms with each other, attending Tyler's birthday party and obliging Eve's requests, but there are also a few rebels who refuse to go along with her security measures.  Tyler's nightly forays reveal a few of their secrets to him, but there's not actually that many revelations about the neighbours themselves - more their reactions when another child vanishes in the night.

Although I'm not always keen on alternate POVs, they work well for The Deepest Secret - it very much suits the underlying theme of the novel to see events from multiple perspectives.

Eve is admirable in her dedication and sacrifice to her family, but it also means that she doesn't really have her own personality - it has been pretty much absorbed by her determination that Tyler will remain well and have as fulfilling a life as possible.  And although it's easy to feel sympathy towards Tyler due to his condition, his frustration with his life makes him rather unpredictable and unlikable.

But what I did particularly enjoy about The Deepest Secret was the main theme of the storyline - that although people have very definite ideas about what is right and wrong when they are removed from the situation, when they are in the middle of it, it's very difficult to make that distinction.  Buckley's storytelling made it easy for me to see why Eve did things in a certain way, and although I appreciated the realism of the ending, it did feel a little rushed and not completely logical to me.


Panic - Lauren Oliver

Ah Panic.  Your premise was so good - a bunch of teens who try and outlast each other at playing a horrific game of chicken - there are physical challenges, mental challenges and the ultimate test of will and guts.  

Told in multiple POVs, Panic centers around three of the teens involved in the annual Panic competition - and the prize of more than $60,000.00 (if I remember correctly), has all the students vying for the top prize.  For main character Heather, it's an escape from her deadbeat mother for her and her younger sister and she's determined to do whatever it takes to secure the prize.  The other, more minor, POVs are that of her best friend, Nat and Dodge, who has a crush on Nat.   There is also Nat and Heather's best friend, Bishop.

What first struck me about the teens is that they ALL have family issues.  I suppose it isn't particularly unusual, but it just felt like drama for the sake of drama - Heather has a deadbeat mother, Nat's parents are distant, and Dodge's mother is a struggling single mother who works in the diner they live above.  And maybe I'm making more of this than necessary, but it would have been great if one of them had an uncomplicated family - and one that was a little more involved in what was happening.

The second thing was the fact that in such a small town, they all pretty much got away with the whole Panic thing without any attempt at parental or school administration intervention, and the cops only appear briefly to break up one game - although they fear being caught by the police, I found it hard to believe that they could get away with so much.

Back to the characters, and I really struggled to connect with any of them.  Heather is the main character, but despite her plans to save her sister from their scary home situation, I didn't really feel much depth to their relationship.  It was almost like Heather was going through the motions of what was 'right', rather than being emotionally attached and invested.

And then the ending - it was too fast for me, and pretty unrealistic - there's a huge showdown scene for the final game of Panic and there were parts that just logically didn't make sense - it was definitely a too-good-to-be-true scenario.

Overall, Panic had a lot of potential, but my inability to connect with the characters, and not being convinced by the plot made it hard for me to enjoy.

Me Since You

Me Since You - Laura Wiess

The synopsis of Me Since You was what first grabbed my attention - although I'm very particular when it comes to Young Adult contemporaries, some of my favourites are those that fall into the realistic fiction genre - because the good ones really stick with me.

Rowan is an average teenage girl who makes one choice that changes the lives of her whole family, and herself.  It's not even something earth-shattering - just a decision to skip school with her best friend to meet up with a couple of boys.  Despite the fact that her parents border on being helicopters, there's obviously a lot of love in her family which is obvious from the very beginning.  And although the synopsis hints at quite a heavy romantic theme, this is very much a book about family, grief and how every person has different reactions to difficult situations.

The one thing I really disliked about this book was Rowan's best friend, Nadia.  Right from the very beginning her attitude grated on me, and it only got worse as the book progressed.  I don't believe that Wiess was actually trying to make Nadia a good person with a few flaws, but was instead trying to show how true friendship is a very difficult thing to find, and for that I loved this book even more - it was just frustrating that Rowan couldn't see it herself.

That point aside, this is a very emotional book - it's raw and emotional, and although I'm not a crier when it comes to books, this one really hit home - I could FEEL Rowan and her family's pain, and I loved that Wiess really went in deep - this is a book that is unflinchingly honest and realistic and doesn't try to glamorise or gloss over just how a tragedy can have a ripple effect through many different people.

Although I did mention that there isn't a heavy romantic element to the story, the relationship between Rowan and Eli is particularly heartfelt and very realistic - everything didn't fall neatly into place for them and it didn't feel insta-lovey - it was just the kind of romantic theme that I really like.

Me Since You is a heart-breaking look at how one decision can change many people's lives, and it's a roller coaster of emotions, but it's also incredibly satisfying and is definitely a story that will stick with me for a long time.


Blood - Tony Birch

When I was in Australia earlier this year, I specifically tried to hunt down a few books by Australian authors and Blood was one of the first that caught my eye.  It's been a long time since I read a contemporary novel set in Australia, and I was intrigued by the synopsis, especially Blood is about the relationship between a brother and sister - something that always grabs my attention.

Jesse and Rachel are brother and sister that are bound together by both genetics and their reliance on each other.  Their mother, Gwen, is really a deadbeat - her boyfriends, her inability to stay settled in one place and to think about what is best for her children makes her a pretty unlikable character - although her own childhood was difficult it didn't really make me feel sympathetic towards her.  She's frustrating, naive and very immature - and whenever the kids feel a little settled and comfortable she uproots them again and again, putting her own needs above theirs.

But the focus of Blood is really that of the sibling relationship - Jesse has cared for Rachel since she was born and although they don't always see eye to eye, he protects her, feeds her and tries to make sure that Rachel doesn't know in great detail about what her mother really gets up to.  It's a complicated but pure relationship - Birch depicts the depth of their relationship without being overly poetic or dramatic, but by showing just how much they care for each other in their day-to-day interactions.

Blood really describes the essence of Australia - a beautifully stark, demanding landscape juxtaposed with the warmth and openness of Australian people really evokes the true feeling of Australia.

The only issue I had was the ending....well, actually the beginning.  The first chapter of Blood is actually the epilogue, and for me it just didn't logically fit with the actual ending at the back of the book - I couldn't reconcile the two scenes in my mind and although I re-read the first chapter I still didn't find it believable.
Despite that one issue, I was completely sucked into this book.  I was so glad I decided to read an Australian author, and Blood is an intense, sad, moving and emotional book about the relationship between a brother and sister.

Anything to Have You by Paige Harbison

Anything to Have You - Paige Harbison

Anything to Have You is, quite simply, a Vegemite book. It's going to be one that readers either love or hate - and I can completely see both sides of the argument. If the likability of a character is a huge selling point for you as a reader, then go into this one prepared - most of the characters just aren't very nice people.

Natalie and Brooke are best friends, but complete opposites. Brooke is a party animal - she's an attention-seeking, binge drinking, uninvested-in-her-future bitch - and she's OK with that. Natalie is the bookworm - quiet, unassuming and (slightly annoyingly) hot without knowing it friend, who is finally convinced to go to a party with Brooke - and does something that is pretty unforgivable in a friendship.

All of this happens pretty early on in the book, and I can see why for some people it's a downward spiral - but I love to hate a character, and that's what drove me to keep reading - because I wanted to see if firstly they could actually redeem themselves, and secondly because I was curious about the drive behind the characters.

The only thing that disappointed me about Anything to Have You is that there is a large portion of Natalie's story that focuses on her relationship with Aiden. She does feel some guilt over betraying Brooke, but it didn't really feel heartfelt - more like she was going through the motions.

The book is split roughly in half - the first half told from Natalie's perspective, and the second half from Brooke's, although in getting to Brooke's perspective, it's pretty easy to despise her so much already that redeeming her as a character is almost an insurmountable task. But I think Harbison did a good job in trying to explain Brooke's behaviour and the implications of it, and by the end I felt sympathetic towards her rather than just a burning hatred.

Anything to Have You doesn't glamorise being a teenager, and Harbison did this similarly in New Girl - we may not want to think about teens drinking, having sex and being irresponsible, but I have to applaud Harbison's honestly in the telling of Anything to Have You - because these are realities for some teens.

Although it has some issues, if you can overlook or embrace (if you are bit twisted like moi) very flawed characters, confronting yet realistic scenarios and a couple of girls who really should have more respect for themselves and each other, Anything to Have you is an interesting read, that doesn't bow down to certain ideals that sometimes creep into YA literature.

Maybe One Day

Maybe One Day - Melissa Kantor

Books about serious illnesses have a weird pull for me.  I know they will be difficult and emotional for me to read, but I also like to push myself to confront the things in books that I find very hard to talk about in real life.  This is why I read books such as Maybe One Day - I know they will hit close to home and make me reflect upon things in my own life, but using them as a catalyst helps me work through my own personal emotions.

Olivia and Zoe have a once-in-a-lifetime kind of friendship.  Their personalities are very different, but they compliment each other, and their lifelong obsession with dance binds them even closer together, and this relationship is what I loved most about this book - their relationship feels very real, and the emotions that Zoe goes through during Olivia's illness are very realistically portrayed. Although the story is told from Zoe's perspective, her interactions with Olivia, Olivia's family and her own family tell their story too - and all their reactions felt very real and emotional.

However, I did have one issue with Zoe's character - and it's when she makes a rather nasty generalisation about a group of kids at her school, and then just a few pages later states that she hates gender generalisations.  It's a small moment, but it really bugged me, and I found it more difficult to connect with Zoe from then on.

What I did like is that Cantor pulls no punches when it comes to Zoe's emotional reactions to the situation - she moves through different stages of anger, sadness and acceptance, whilst still standing by her best friend's side.

The synopsis hints heavily at a relationship, but it actually plays a very small part in the story - this book is much more focused on friendship and the emotions of having someone you love being diagnosed with a serious, life-threatening illness.  Zoe shows real strength as a character in putting Olivia's needs before her own, and making her the number one priority in her life.

Apart from my one issue with Zoe, this is a book that had a huge emotional impact on me - in fact I forgot to take notes whilst I was reading, but everything came flooding back once I re-read the synopsis.  It's a story about friendship and growing up, learning to accept things that cannot be changed and making the most of every moment.

The Future of Us

The Future of Us - Jay Asher, Carolyn Mackler

In 1996 I was 14 years old.  I remember what life was like before the Internet, I remember 'getting' Internet when I was 16 and I remember what a dial-up Internet connection sounded like.  So I was incredibly excited to read The Future of Us - pop-culture references from the 1990s are my favourite.

The problem is, there actually weren't that many pop-culture references in The Future of Us.  What there was in The Future of Us were two characters that I didn't particularly like, nor find very realistic.  If I like the characters, I can overlook a lot of other faults, but it just wasn't happening for me.  Josh wasn't particularly interesting and Emma pretty much spent the whole book complaining about her future husband/boyfriend and trying to change who she ended up marrying without even knowing more than what a few status updates hinted at.

The second thing that really irked me was their complete lack of interest in the futures of other people in their lives.  Now, if I had discovered a Facebook page of my 30 year old self, I would have searched the shit out of it, trying to find out how the lives of my family and friends and those horrible bitchy girls at school turned out.  I would have searched for pages of my favourite movie stars and singers to find out future gossip, looked through peoples photos and walls.  After all, when I first had Internet access at home (and OK even now!), I was completely addicted.

At one point, Emma does make a list of all the people she wants to look up on Facebook, but Josh talks her out of it.  And that didn't make a lot of sense to me either - on one hand they are immaturely self-absorbed, and on the other hand are mature enough to think that it might not be a good idea to look up other people.  The whole thing just didn't sit right with me - it was all a big contradiction.

Thirdly, there are unresolved plot lines and it's not just small stuff - it's big stuff that they found out about the two people they searched for other than themselves and there's no resolution, despite the fact that they were actually life-changing events.

The Future of Us had so much potential that I just didn't feel was realised - a few more pop culture references, more realistic behaviour, less obsession from Emma about boyfriends and husbands and tying up those plot lines would have made this a much more enjoyable read for me.

The Third Day, The Frost

A Killing Frost - John Marsden

Every time I pick up another book in the Tomorrow series to re-read, I'm immediately hit by nostalgia for the first times I read them - and the third installment, The Third Day, The Frost (also published as A Killing Frost), is the book where shit gets really serious.

Picking up shortly after the end of book two, the teens find themselves struggling to decide what to do next, and how to continue avoiding the army and colonists that have invaded Australia.  This is a far darker book than the first two in the series, although none of them are a real picnic, this is the one where everything that has happened since the invasion really hits home - they all struggle with different psychological issues, and all their problems feel very realistic.

The characters also continue to examine their personal relationships, and especially Ellie is very honest about how she actually feels about being in a relationship formed during wartime.  This honesty is one of my favourite things about Ellie, and all of the characters in the book - even though these books were written in the 1990s, they are still relevant today because they feel so realistic.

Once again, the Australianisms and slang words came flooding back to me, and although they could potentially be confusing for non-Australian readers, Marden's use of this terminology makes it easy to work out what is actually meant - or at very least would make me curious to look them up and see what they actually mean.

This series is so intensly readable - the plot lines move at a fast pace, the characters are so realistic and it always makes me just a little homesick.

Golden Boy (Audio review)

Golden Boy - Abigail Tarttelin

It had been about six months since I had listened to an audiobook, and I was desperately searching for the Right One to get me back into it.  And when Christinamentioned Golden Boy was fantastic, I knew I must be onto a winner - firstly it sounded fabulous, and secondly Christina is probably just as particular about narrators as I am.

Told through multiple POV's, Golden Boy is the story of Max - who is intersex and raised by his parents as a boy.  Quite secure with himself, Max is a golden boy - good at sports, popular and beloved by his mother, Karen.  It's only when his friend Hunter does something completely horrible to Max, is he forced to look at who he is, how he fits into the world, and what his future may hold.

Max is incredibly likable as a character - although he excels at anything he sets his mind to, he's a genuinely nice person - he spends a lot of time with his younger brother, who is Max's complete opposite, treats his parents with a lot of respect and love, and genuinely tries to do the right thing.  It was impossible not to want the very best outcome for him both in terms of the plot of the book and for his future.

Both of his parents, Karen and Steve, have their flaws, as all realistic parental characters should.  Karen tends to over-control a situation and Steve lets her pretty much rule the roost - what Karen says, for a majority of the book, is what goes - but it doesn't make her unlikable because her intentions are always to protect her children, no matter what.

The relationship that I particularly loved was that between Max and Sylvie.  Sylvie is a slightly unconventional girl, who although is friends with popular kids, also comes across as a bit of a loner.  Her number one priority is the people she loves, not what is the cool thing to do, and I had an unlimited amount of respect for how she handled absolutely everything that happened during the course of the book.

What Tarttelin does best though, is to get inside of heads of the characters.  Whether they are good, bad or somewhere in the middle, they are consistent and realistic - it felt like I was listening to real people tell their story, rather than actors voicing a book.  Particularly tense moments are just that - tense, page-turning and completely absorbing.  She also handles the subject of intersexuality, and all the medical and psychological aspects without resorting to dramatics to get the point across - the characters really tell the story themselves through their actions.

The narration is absolutely perfect - all the narrators play their part perfectly, the emotions are conveyed in a way that felt realistic and the characters really came to life through their voices.

I will unhesitatingly recommend this book to anyone - it's as close to perfect as they come.

A Killing Frost / The Third Day, the Frost (Tomorrow #3)

A Killing Frost - John Marsden

Every time I pick up another book in the Tomorrow series to re-read, I'm immediately hit by nostalgia for the first times I read them - and the third installment, The Third Day, The Frost (also published as A Killing Frost), is the book where shit gets really serious.

Picking up shortly after the end of book two, the teens find themselves struggling to decide what to do next, and how to continue avoiding the army and colonists that have invaded Australia.  This is a far darker book than the first two in the series, although none of them are a real picnic, this is the one where everything that has happened since the invasion really hits home - they all struggle with different psychological issues, and all their problems feel very realistic.

The characters also continue to examine their personal relationships, and especially Ellie is very honest about how she actually feels about being in a relationship formed during wartime.  This honesty is one of my favourite things about Ellie, and all of the characters in the book - even though these books were written in the 1990s, they are still relevant today because they feel so realistic.

Once again, the Australianisms and slang words came flooding back to me, and although they could potentially be confusing for non-Australian readers, Marden's use of this terminology makes it easy to work out what is actually meant - or at very least would make me curious to look them up and see what they actually mean.

This series is so intensly readable - the plot lines move at a fast pace, the characters are so realistic and it always makes me just a little homesick.

Source: http://www.theaussiezombie.com/2014/01/review-third-day-frost-by-john-marsden.html

Pandemic (Infected #3)

Pandemic (Infected, #3) - Scott Sigler

Pandemic is the third book in the Infected series, but it's been a long time between drinks.  The second book, Contagious, was published in late 2008, and I have the feeling that perhaps a third book wasn't originally on the cards.  The ending of Contagious was left pretty open, but there are quite a few cast changes in Pandemic.  It's not a companion novel, as I wouldn't recommend reading it without reading Infected or Contagious, although perhaps others that have read it as a standalone would disagree.

As I loved Infected and really enjoyed Contagious, I was interested to see where Sigler took the story next.  As a horror writer, Sigler is incredibly talented and has a tendency to write rather epic novels, and at nearly 600 pages Pandemic wasn't a casual Sunday afternoon read.

Picking up the open threads from the end of Contagious, Pandemic brings back some loved characters from the series and introduces some other memorable characters, both good and bad.  The plot itself felt a little bit slower to get going than Contagious and particularly Infected, but once things started developing it turned into an addictive horror novel.

Once again written in multiple third-person POV, Pandemic has perhaps too many POVs - and there are long gaps between appearances for a few characters, to the stage that I found myself wondering at times if I'd missed some key part of the plot.

Familiar characters come back into the story right from the beginning, and in particular, Margaret, has been very much changed by the events of Infected and Contagious.  However, I did understand her reactions, even if I wanted to reach through the pages and shake her.  Clarence, Longworth and Cheng return too, all of them a little changed but pretty much the same characters that I came to know and love or loathe in Contagious.

There are also new characters to fill some of the voids left after Infected and Contagious, and of those my favourite was the sleezy yet brilliant scientist, Dr Feely (aka Dr Feelygood) who had me smirking with his one liners, and admiring the way he overcame his fears without turning into an amazing action hero when the shit went down.

Unlike Infected and Contagious, Pandemic has a more global view - the virus spreads quickly and devastatingly, and in that way Pandemic feels more rounded than the previous books as it encompasses global reactions and politics.   There is once again a heavy focus on both science and military, and at times the weaponry descriptions went right over my head, but the virology was interesting and although I'm no scientist, it felt realistic and was pretty much flawlessly presented.  The action scenes are excellent, with a real feeling of desperation and intensity.

Pandemic is an excellent ending to a series that holds a special place in my reading heart - it's frightening, heart-racing horror, with characters that are unique and either likeable or loathesome, and a few that fall somewhere in between. 

Source: http://www.theaussiezombie.com/2014/01/review-pandemic-by-scott-sigler.html

Into the Still Blue (Under the Never Sky #3)

Into the Still Blue - Veronica Rossi

Into the Still Blue was one of my most anticipated 2014 releases.  In a year that was awash with Young Adult dystopians, it's one of the few series that I felt so strongly positive about, and even read the first two books back to back - something that sadly happens rarely for me anymore.

One thing that I really wished I had done before starting to read Into the Still Blue was refresh my memory on what had happened in the previous two books as Rossi doesn't include a lot of recap - there are a few, but they weren't enough to jog my memory enough.  I can recommend two options for getting back into the swing of the series - the first is to check out the recaps at The Recaptains (my personal method), or take a leaf out of Gillian at Writer of Wrongs' book and BINGE READ ALL THE BOOKS.   I was about 20% into Into the Still Blue before I read the recap, and that's what really stopped me from getting right into the story - so if you've got a memory like mine, you know your options.   And now, back to the book.

Into the Still Blue picks up shortly after Through the Ever Night ends - Perry, Aria and the gang are holed up in the caves, trying to help the Dwellers acclimatise to life outside and decide on their next move.  The aether storms are increasing in intensity, food is running out, and the Tides can't stay in one place forever.  Using Soren's skills, the gang break into Sable and Hess's compound and attempt to steal enough ships to transport The Tides to the Still Blue after rescuing Cinder.

The plot moves along quite quickly - there are lots of intense scenes between Aria, Roar, Perry, Sable and Hess, and even during periods of 'down-time', emotions run high and it's easy to get swept away in the storyline.

As in any stressful situation, a lot of the relationships between the key characters become strained - and all of those interactions feel very realistic and intense - and although I've got a soft spot for Roar that is only made stronger in his grief, Aria and Perry's relationship continues to grow as they face tougher and tougher decisions.  There are some particularly touching scenes towards the end of the book as they need to make decisions that may not be the best for their relationship but for the greater good of the Tides.  I really liked this focus because I felt invested in ALL of the characters, rather than just the romance.

It was the last 25% of Into the Still Blue that really worked for me - and although that's not perhaps the best 'advertising' for the book, it's really a testament for how Rossi built up to the climax of the series.  And yes, it's the ending of a trilogy, which is never an easy read - I was actually quite scared of reading this book and seeing how the story concluded.  

But if you're feeling hesitant about reading the last book in this series, I can honestly say this is one of the best series endings that I've read for a very long time - the climax is intense and perfectly scripted, the characters really show their true strengths and their bonds with each other, and it's just damn bloody satisfying.

Source: http://www.theaussiezombie.com/2014/01/review-into-still-blue-by-veronica-rossi.html